I'm beginning to write this review 30 days before we leave. My wife and I are really anticipating this, our 14th cruise together, and first on Celebrity. We've cruised once with RCCL, twice with NCL, three times with Carnival and the rest with Princess. This is actually a rescheduling of a cruise we planned to take in January, 2012 for our 40th anniversary -- it had to be canceled because of family obligations. Thank you travel insurance.
I am a cabin research nut and last year I set my sights on getting one of the hump cabin with the largest balcony. I booked (six plus months ahead) cabin 9237, a 1A, on the port side and near the main elevators. It's the first balcony on the aft side of the hump, as the cabins start to return to the ship, and it's reported to be the largest of the hump balconies.
This year I didn't start booking until a little over three months ahead, and the best I could find was a C2, cabin 2111. It's on the hump, but on deck 12 and it's has the big overhang from the deck above. Also, it's the last hump cabin before the cabins straighten out again -- so the balcony is not quite the biggest and I wasn't 100% happy. So, I kept checking every day or two on Travelocity to see if any better cabins would become available. About a week later cabin 9241 became available. Also a C2, so I made the switch. Same cabin category, and since I booked through Celebrity, it just took a phone call. I still kept checking every few days and about 10 days later cabin 1243 became available and I quickly made the call to book it. We ended up in the exact same position on the ship as last year's cabin 9237, but one deck up in cabin 1243. Hot damn.
I should say that my wife and I are both 60-something, and both love cruising --especially me. Can't get enough of it. My wife likes some land based vacations too, but I'm always lobbying to get on a ship and go somewhere. We are as different as night and day in that she wants to be "surprised" and doesn't want to know anything about the ship, ports, details. So guess who does all the planning?
As you can see, this may, rather, will, be a lengthy review -- it's still 30 days till we leave. I keep an eye on the countdown clock I put on my desktop. More to come.
Well, the 30 days came and went, and we returned 1/11/2013 from a fantastic cruise! We flew to Fort Lauderdale and stayed at the Airport Hilton. It was just okay, and was pretty expensive for a simple overnight stay. The service was sub-par, which is unusual for a Hilton hotel. I booked a "pre-cruise package" which included a shuttle to the cruise port. We signed up for the 10:30 shuttle, but it was full and they bumped us to the next one, so we got to the port around 11:15.
The embarkation process was smooth with no waiting at all, and in 15 minutes we were on the ship. I was looking forward to the welcome aboard drink, but they pointed us to a rear gangway and we missed it -- no problem -- I found my way to the main gangway and grabbed a tray, rather glass, of bubbly.
As usual, the Oceanview Cafe was very crowded on embarkation day and it was tough to find a table, but we did and then enjoyed a great lunch. My take on the Oceanview Cafe was that it couldn't have been better. Great food with a wide variety, and I especially liked the "food islands" instead of a long cafeteria line. We had most breakfasts and lunches here and were very satisfied. Actually, most of my lunches were the fantastic burgers from the Mast Grill, which I would take to the Oceanview Cafe to have lunch with my wife.
The Equinox is an absolutely beautiful ship, and I would say it is the most clean and best designed ship we sailed on. It is classy and elegant everywhere you look, with a lot of stainless steel and a warm, upscale design. We really liked that the ship doesn't bombard you with loud music or announcements -- it's a very relaxed atmosphere. The pool area was comfortable and usually quiet, and it was always easy to find a recliner. The ship should be "known for its shade" since there are large canvas overhangs to protect those that want to be out of the direct sun.
Cabin 1243 was just like all the other balcony cabins -- nice and modern and we found the bed comfortable, and the cabin had adequate storage with a great TV. Don't forget that you can pull the TV out from the wall and angle it toward the bed - our TV took a lot of pulling to get it unclipped from being "flat to the wall", with my wife saying over and over "you'll break it, you'll break it". The extra large balcony was really huge - a good two or three times the size of the standard balcony. This worked great to keep you out of the sun if you wanted, or to be able to still use the balcony when a little rain would come through. One problem in the cabin was the closet, it was very difficult to use effectively because of the sliding doors. Even when one or the other door was fully open, most of the closet was covered by the overlapping doors, so it was hard to get to the stuff inside.
Regarding the "concierge class", I didn't think the perks were really worth much. Of course, these cabins are usually in preferred locations and we appreciated that our cabin was centrally located and close to the elevators, so you may want a concierge class cabin, mainly for the location.
This was an 11 day cruise, and we'd been to Cozumel and Costa Maya several times, so we didn't get off the ship there. Even in Costa Rica, we got off the ship and realized we forgot to bring money, so we got back on and decided just to stay there. No shore excursions at the first three stops. In Panama, we took the shore excursion called "Expansion of the Panama Canal - The Present and the Future". I can highly recommend this exclusion - it was very informative and interesting. They first took us by bus to a new visitor center that overlooks the canal expansion project. After that, we were taken to a visitor center at the Gatun lock and saw a ship going through. In Cartagena, Columbia we just went to the visitors area and did some shopping, then had ship withdrawal, and back to the Equinox. We took a cab to the beach in Cayman and dodged raindrops -- still fun and relaxing.
We had a table for two in the Silhouette dining room (early dining option) and had every dinner there but one. On our anniversary, we enjoyed dinner at the Tuscan Grill. I've got to tell you, if you are planning to enjoy a dinner at one of the specialty restaurants, you should force yourself to not eat a lot before you go. The food at the Tuscan Grill was excellent, but we couldn't enjoy it fully since we didn't have the stomach capacity and were pretty full after the appetizer and soup. Also, I was looking forward to the great view of the wake from the Tuscan Grill -- but I'd made a reservation after sunset and all we saw was our reflection in the window.
We couldn't help but compare the Celebrity product with Princess, and I was expecting to be wowed by Celebrity. However, I think both cruise lines are very comparable. The staff on Celebrity was friendly, but I was expecting (from other reviews) that they would be bending over backwards to make us happy. A couple of examples of where they came up short are: one night at dinner I told the waiter couldn't decide between two appetizers, expecting him to say I'll bring you both. Instead, he said I'll come back later when you've decided. I know I could've asked for both, but I thought he was abrupt and bordering on unfriendly. Also, since we had booked a concierge class cabin, I knew we would get a bottle of champagne on arrival. When the cabin steward introduce himself, I asked if there was any way we could substitute a bottle of wine for the champagne which neither my wife nor I like. His response was not "I'll be glad to check on this request", instead he said "that's not something I can do -- I just clean the room". He did say I could call the concierge and I gave her a call the next day and got a voicemail where I left a message asking for a call back -- which never came. No big deal, but we ended up leaving the bottle of champagne unopened in the room. I could give you six or eight other examples, but I don't want to seem picky. I sure expected a little more friendliness and "can do" attitude, which definitely wasn't there.
Overall, we really enjoyed our cruise and it gave us just what we wanted -- relaxation and rejuvenation, we'll probably sail again on Celebrity and give them a second chance to "wow" us, but if Princess has a better price or itinerary I'll book with Princess.